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Gary Fuller | Councillor for Sandgate & West Folkestone

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Napier "A temporary measure, which we will reverse as soon as circumstances allow"

September 18, 2020 6:47 PM
Originally published by Tim Prater | Councillor for Sandgate & West Folkestone, Sandgate Village, Harvey West & Hythe East

Napier Barracks, FolkestoneEarlier this week, I co-signed letters alongside the Leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council David Monk and Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins to both Chris Philp Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding answers on the Government decision to open a migrant site at Napier Barracks at Shorncliffe.

We have today received a reply from Chris Philp which I quote in full below.

I note the Minister's semi-apology to our area for the way in which this has been handled, and there are some helpful answers. There will be security on site. There will be healthcase for those in the camp in site, alongside support for their other needs, and the use is temporary - less than 12 months.

However, I still don't think this is right place for such a site, and doesn't offer the right facilities for keeping hundreds of people for any extended period of time. I will push for the earliest possible closure date, push for additional support for the Police to maintain a stronger presence around the camp, and still think the Government have a lot more apologising to do on how they have gone about this. They have behaved badly, and communicated appallingly.

That said, it seems they are continuing, and Napier Barracks will be seeing arrivals from Monday. I'm told there will be a limited number to begin with, who have already spent a quarantine period elsewhere and undergone personal welfare and security checks. Although I am angry at the Government about the way they have gone about this, that isn't the fault of the people they will be placing at the camp.

The people who will be placed at Napier are desperate people a long way from home after a harrowing journey. They have new lives to build, whether here or after return to where they came from.

I've been really moved by the number of people who have contacted me and the District Council to support those in the camp: I'm told more information on how to do so will be published soon. I'll also do my best as a Councillor to do for those in the camp what I do for all local residents, whether they've lived here for days or their whole life.

Good neighbours more often than not get good neighbours. I know our area: we will be good neighbours, and we will support each other. We'll do the right thing and treat them the way we want to be treated ourselves - with respect and compassion and support.

Chris Philp MP
Minister for Immigration Compliance
and the Courts
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
18 September 2020

By Email

Dear Damian, David and Tim,

Thank you for your letter of 15 September to the Home Secretary about asylum seeker accommodation in Folkestone and Hythe, to which she has asked me to respond. I am also taking the opportunity to respond to the separate letter I received from the leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council and the Chair of Sandgate Parish Council on 14 September.

We had the opportunity to speak about your concerns on Sunday 13 September and I also spoke with the Leader of Kent County Council, Cllr Roger Gough on Friday 11 September. I would like to start by apologising for manner in which events have unfolded, which has been far from ideal, and which I will explain more fully in this letter. I can give you my assurance that officials are now engaging rapidly and comprehensively on this matter including through a multi-agency forum. I would like to express my thanks to the local authority chief executive and team for their response to this and their collaborative engagement at such short notice.

I wrote to local authority chief executives earlier this year to explain that in the context of Covid-19 it was likely that difficult decisions would need to be taken at pace. In doing so, I have been committed to open and transparent engagement with local authorities and I have been and remain hugely grateful for the co-operation and support received from many local authorities throughout the United Kingdom over several months as we have faced together the challenges Covid-19 has presented. It is vital that this continues and that of course means the Home Office continuing to provide strong collaboration and clear communication.

I am very grateful for your understanding that, whilst across Government we work hard to address the wider issue of illegal migration, the Government has a statutory responsibility under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide safe accommodation for people who have claimed asylum and who would otherwise be destitute, whilst the merits of their asylum claims are considered.

In answer to your specific questions:

The situation has become acute as a result of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the asylum support system with a marked increase in the number of supported asylum seekers remaining in the system. As part of the Government's measures to respond to Covid-19 at the end of March decisions were made that asylum seekers who would normally no longer be eligible for accommodation because their claim has been resolved would continue to receive accommodation support. This was to ensure that people were not made homeless in light of the health emergency.

It was stated at the outset that this was a temporary measure which would be brought to an end as soon as it was safe to do so in terms of public health. Therefore, in the last month, we have now started to resume cessations of support and move people out of supported accommodation. However, there remains a need to continue to build capacity in the short term, whilst there remains significant pressure in the system.

Turning to the specifics of Napier Barracks, our work to explore further options to accommodate asylum seekers included work with the Ministry of Defence to identify the potential to utilise sites at short notice, taking account of a wide range of considerations to determine suitability. Through this scoping process we identified Napier Barracks as a possible location.

The sites will be run on behalf of the Home Office by contracted providers who are involved in the provision of accommodation throughout the United Kingdom, with a clear focus as always on the welfare of those in accommodation, the provision of appropriate wrap around services and wider considerations relating to the local area and its residents. In terms of security on site, we always provide security services at our larger accommodation sites, this will be no different. We are working with our provider to ensure the level of security is appropriate.

We have spent time with both policy and health officials and we understand their concerns over the pressure on their services. As with security, we will be providing onsite medical services, ensuring we are not reliant on local healthcare services. Whilst processing individual claims for asylum, there may be requirements for claimants to attend interviews. In these cases, transport or remote access to those services will be organised by the Home Office.

As part of the operating model for the site, the contractor will develop a site-specific safeguarding policy which will identify and address any safeguarding concerns around the vulnerability of people accommodated at the site. The Home Office safeguarding team are feeding in to this safeguarding assessment.

Our normal Initial Accommodation model, pre-COVID, is largely hostel based, with room sharing. Laundry facilities, food, essentials and other items are all provided and access to healthcare is facilitated. We are currently accommodating approximately 10,000 people in contingency Initial Accommodation.

At full capacity, Napier Barracks can accommodate up to 523 people. The MOD are currently limiting capacity to 431 in line with social distancing guidelines. We are still working through how we operate the site safely and in line with current social distancing requirements and are seeking the advice of Public Health England to assist with this. The MOD has given us permission to use the site for 12 months, but the use of this facility will be temporary, and we will discontinue it as soon as we are able. There is no direct funding assistance for police, though I would be keen to understand any direct costs that would be incurred by Kent police.

I hope that provides some assurance and clarity. Home Office officials are working on the detailed planning and engaging with stakeholders through a multi-agency forum, as this work progresses at pace. Let me reiterate that this is a temporary measure, which we will reverse as soon as circumstances allow.

Chris Philp MP
Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts